Since 2013 with Immunity and 2018’s Singularity, Jon Hopkins has been on a ruler-straight trajectory aiming for the sun. And then, bleep. The dot disappears from the screen. Jon Hopkins has turned 180 degrees and now reemerges with Music for Psychedelic Therapy. When we view Hopkins’ cerebral beginnings and experimental side projects, this album was always there for the making. Hopkins says it’s the record he has attempted to make all his life. When you press play and enter, you are not in doubt. Music is a question of life and death.
Music alters our brain waves. It sets our mood and lightens our spirit when we hear the right waves. Music heals. We know this and have known it for millennia. Yet, not a lot of science has been devoted to this until this past decade. Neuroscientist Mendel Kaelen and his company Wavepaths are among those investing deeply in generative music that moves with your moods and establishes harmony when you don’t have it. Using delta and theta sound waves and binaural beats, feelings of pain are diminished, memory is improved, and even your skin regenerates on a cellular level. Music is the path to our thoughts, our joys, and fears. It’s that powerful.
In 2018 Wavepaths and Kaelen went to Ecuador making field recordings in the deep Cueva de Los Tayos (Caves of the Oilbirds) for future soundwave therapy. Jon Hopkins was invited along for the recording and to work on generative music. They spent four days in total darkness living in the sounds of the caves. This experience directly laid the foundations of Music for Psychedelic Therapy.
The album has a straightforward narrative to it that matches the stages of a psychedelic experience. There’s the welcome, the descending into the cave and living in it, the centerpiece peak, ascension, coming home, and lastly, a winding down accompanied by the voice of spiritual leader Ram Dass.
The narrative describes the movement and transgression, and the music mirrors this. From the opening bell sound, you are taken deep into the earth. The feeling of being swallowed up by the vast darkness of the cave is felt and mirrors what Hopkins felt himself going down. Once down there, this unease disappears. You may not know where you are or where it all goes, but you feel guided by the music. There is wonder and awe but also comfort in the air. We don’t feel we are on foreign territory. It’s strangely familiar. It’s like seeing the insides of our own body for the first time. The sound of rain may be all around, but synths light up where we are supposed to tread, so our path onward is made clear.
The centerpiece, peak, and heart of the matter (for the heart is the matter here) is the triadic “Love Flows Over Us in Prismatic Waves”, “Deep in the Glowing Heart”, and “Ascending, Dawn Sky”. When it begins, we are not in doubt that we’ve stumbled upon something in the cave. Synths, choir-like voices, and the sound like your own heart pulsating in your ears slowly escalate. We are getting closer. Flowing to the core. Upon “Arriving”, we hear human voices signaling a homecoming. The album experience ends with “Sit Around the Fire”, which works as a kind of ‘decompression phase’ after resurfacing. This is where all the pieces come together. It’s where everything has to end. By the fire.
There’s a different kind of trance to Music for Psychedelic Therapy. It’s as far removed from crowded clubs and community-pleasing stadium gigs as you could possibly get. The music is beatless and ego-less. It floats, drifts, and rips apart, and yet when it whips up a storm you are still centered and calm because the music never lets go of your hand.
Music for Psychedelic Therapy is a space odyssey. Its aspirations and ambitions are out there, yet, the album doesn’t come off as far-reaching. We don’t go to ‘Jupiter and beyond’. We stay on earth, feeling the soil. There is enough wonder here to go around.
While going through a psychedelic therapy himself – to have a feel for the music – Hopkins was reminded of the quote, “music is liquid architecture”. Music is about space, the organization of space, and your orientation through it. Music creates the rooms and operates the doors. Music can guide you or leave you disorientated. It can take you through worlds or lose you in them. And music changes you in the process.
That’s why we are always, consciously or unconsciously, searching for the right sounds. Sounds that speak to us clearly, and make us see things again. Music has a spiritual purpose. That’s its origin. Spirit. That’s the destination, too. Music for Psychedelic Therapy is a testament to this, and it’s a humbling listen. Describing this album and what it does is ultimately futile. You won’t get it until you go through the music yourself. From the first strike of the meditation bell to the very last crackle of firewood, you are spellbound. If you let yourself be. Because it’s always a question of willingness and of how far we are willing to go. The only premise is to “quiet the mind and open the heart”.